Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Review: The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne

I am participating in a group of Twitter friends that are reading, sharing and responding to recent middle grade novels. Hopefully, we will be able to find books that will excite the young readers in our classrooms and help us to teach important literacy skills and concepts in the coming year. Our group's handle is #BookRelays if you would like to see what we're reading and how we respond to these books.

I had the opportunity to read an ARC of the middle grade novel, The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne, and I am so happy that I did. This book tells the story of Elizabeth "Fizzy" Russo, a sixth grader who is trying to navigate the treacherous waters of middle school, while at the same time adjusting to the ever-changing rules of two families.  Fizzy lives with her mom, who has gone from being a stay-at-home mom to a full-time sales associate for the Courier-Journal, the newspaper of Louisville. She spends every other weekend at her dad's house, becoming acquainted with his new wife, Suzanne.

C.C. Payne does an awesome job showing readers what it is like to cope with the divorce of your parents and try to figure out just what it means to be a part of a family and what makes a place "home". Many of my students come from very difficult family situations, and I like to think that I do my best to understand what they're feeling and help them to make sense out of their circumstances. And while I myself have not experienced these issues, I am so glad that I've read this book that brings me a bit closer to understanding. This is such a helpful books, not only for students who might be experiencing this, but for teachers and other caregivers as well!

One aspect of living in two different families that I've never considered is the constant packing and unpacking that the child has to do:

"Every other Friday, I have to pack and unpack, because Dad won't let me live out of my suitcase. Then, every other Sunday, I have to pack and unpack again, because Mom won't let me live out of my suitcase either. This means I am either packing or unpacking about a hundred times a year. Since I'm only twelve, I have six and a half more years of this, so I'll be packing or unpacking six hundred and fifty more times..."

One of the things that made this book such a wonderful experience, is Fizzy's sense of humor. Payne has given such an authentic voice to this character, middle grade students will certainly be able to relate to her. Fizzy also has friends, Zach Mabry and Miyoko Hoshi that make her time in school tolerable as they deal with mean girls and mean teachers. Payne also brings her experiences growing up in Kentucky to include the importance of sweet tea, manners, and preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

Be prepared to get hungry while you read this. Fizzy loves to cook whenever she gets the chance. She cooks dinner for her mom, she spends time in her Aunt Liz's kitchen most days after school, and she dreams of one day attending culinary school so she can become a famous television chef one day. Fizzy's descriptions of her cooking will make your mouth water, like her Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich:

"I was thinking of making us Kentucky Hot Browns - country ham and turkey on top of Texas toast covered in a heavy cream sauce, topped with bacon and tomato, and smothered in melted cheese - because Aunt Liz had recently given me the original recipe from the Brown Hotel."

Fizzy gathers up her courage and her recipes and enters Southern Living Magazine's Cook-Off. The more that she feels her family doesn't believe in her, the more determined she is to win. And it's in the context of food and cooking that Fizzy shares her metaphor of leftovers as a description of the way she believes her families view her:

"Here's the thing about leftovers: Nobody is ever excited about them; they're just something you have to deal with. No matter how hard you try, leftovers are never exactly what they used to be - and I'm not either. If you ignore them or forget about them, they start to stink, and if you try to serve them alongside a freshly made meal, they never fit in quite right - do you want leftover spaghetti with your fajitas?"

Ultimately, Fizzy learns to change her perception of leftovers and comes to realize that some leftovers only get better with time, like lasagna. I really liked that through this well-written, funny, emotional story, there are some wonderful messages about families, love, and adapting to changing circumstances.  Among them:

"Families don't keep score. They accept each other, flaws, mistakes, and all. They love and care for each other, not because they're perfect - nobody's perfect - but just because they're family."

This is definitely a book I want to share with my students and to have in my classroom library. I only wish the author had included recipes, because now I need to search Google, Pinterest, and the Food Network for all of these dishes that Fizzy creates!

Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: July 19th 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books


  1. Jana, thank you for taking the time to read TTAL and to write such a thoughtful review. More than that, thank you for teaching our young people! As I suspect you know, one special teacher can change everything--including the way a kid feels about themselves!I suspect you are just such a teacher! On my own behalf, and on behalf of your students, thank you! With gratitude & admiration, C. C. Payne

  2. It is not at a library near me yet, but I will keep an eye out for this one.